Sometimes researchers discover wonderful new things about treasures in our collections. On a recent visit to William & Mary, Dr. Candace Bailey from North Carolina Central University spent time researching in the extensive collection of bound music volumes in Swem’s Special Collections. Also known as binder’s volumes, these sheet music collections provide insight into musical tastes and performance practices of the nineteenth century.
One especially large and well-preserved volume in particular caught Prof. Bailey’s eye; the music contained within it was much more difficult than average, indicating it must have been owned by a rather accomplished musician. With a bit of sleuthing, Bailey ascertained that the volume may have a connection to Eliza Abrams, an English concert soprano and pianist who died in 1831. Abrams was one of three musical sisters well-known for performances in and around London. Several works within this binder’s volume have Eliza Abrams’s name penciled at the top and contain performance markings (also in pencil) regarding phrasing and dynamics that indicate the performance practice of a serious musician.
Unlike the majority of music volumes in our collection, this particular volume contains serious music of the style and genre performed in concerts by professionals like Eliza and her sisters, rather than the music purchased by amateurs for enjoyment in the home. Although this volume mostly includes music contemporary to Abrams’s career, such as arias from Gioachino Rossini’s early operas, it also contains works written by composers such as Giuseppe Verdi who flourished well after Eliza’s death. This anachronism poses a mystery about which we can only speculate.
Bound Music Collection, Circa 1800-1970 (Mss. 1.12)
For more information about the Abrams sisters see: Olive Baldwin and Thelma Wilson. “Abrams, Harriett.” Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press, accessed April 25, 2016, http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/subscriber/article/grove/music/00059.
For a portrait of Eliza and her sisters, visit: http://www.artnet.com/artists/richard-cosway/